Blackface and the Barometer

Update: I dug through a recycling bin and found a copy of the Daily Barometer with the blackface photograph:
Daily Barometer blackface photograph

The Daily Barometer is the student-run newspaper at Oregon State University. A recent front page article showed a photograph of a white student in blackface. The article encouraged OSU students to “blackout” the football stadium.

Renee Roman Nose, an OSU student and frequent Daily Barometer columnist, wrote a column in response to the Barometer blackface photograph/article.

Unfortunately, the Barometer editorial staff/advisory board took umbrage with Renee’s column and have banned that column and any of her future columns from being printed in the student newspaper.

I found out about Renee’s column and sent her an email asking if I could post it on my blog. Renee’s response: “Please feel free to post it. It’s nice to know that there is freedom of speech at ericstoller.com! :)

Renee’s column entitled, Blackface: It’s Just for Racists, is after the cut…

Blackface: It’s Just for Racists

Apparently I missed the memo that said it was ok to go out in public in blackface, although it was written on the front page of the Daily Barometer in Friday’s edition as students were encouraged to go in blackface to the Saturday game. Much to my chagrin an African friend of mine, Wolof, who is also an OSU student (one of the mighty 264), approached me and asked me what was going on at the paper and had I seen the issue? He promptly pulled it out of his book bag and told me to keep it. After reading it, I wondered why students and alumni were being encouraged to “blackout” Reser stadium for last week’s game. Apparently there were postings on Facebook as well as OregonLive regarding this effort. Also apparently, to me at least, we haven’t come as far as I thought we have in terms of diversity awareness, cultural understanding, or in terms of racism and what might well be construed as a racist act.

There are t-shirts for sale in the bookstore that read, “I see orange people” so I am wondering why an “orange-out” wasn’t planned instead of a “blackout”? The accompanying photo was equally disturbing. Perhaps people don’t realize how offensive it is to blacks to see white people wear blackface? Or to people who are not Black but are considerate of others? I’m not saying this to be politically correct; anyone who knows me knows that I could care less about political correctness but care immensely about deliberately offending someone else about their culture or personal beliefs. I don’t understand how a collegiate paper can print something so offensive on their front page, or any page for that matter!

On behalf of myself, since I do not speak on behalf of the Daily Barometer (read disclaimer below) I would like to sincerely apologize to every Black student, staff, and faculty member, as well as any community member, who may have been offended by reading Friday’s edition and seeing the accompanying photo of a white male in blackface. I would also like to apologize to those of you who are not Black and were also offended.

What do you think it might make a black person on campus think if they see such an article in our student newspaper? Do you think they feel welcome here? That the OSU environment is friendly or considerate to minority people?

Do we just shake our heads and tell each other, “What can you do, some people may never learn,” all with a casual shrug of our shoulders? Or do we encourage people to get diversity training? Do we ask folks to attend an event at one of the cultural centers? Do we just ignore it and hope that it ends up in the recycling bin and long forgotten? Do you think that the Black students on this campus are going to forget? Do you think that they felt honored by having other people suggest such a thing?

There was a recent video reenactment of the alleged Jena 6 assault which was pulled from the Facebook page of a student in Louisiana whose friends covered themselves in mud and jumped another friend, supposedly because they were drunk and having fun while referring to one another by the “N” word. There are also additional racially inflammatory images that have been posted by other students in other states. Isn’t racism what started the problems that resulted in the alleged Jena 6 assault in the first place? What is wrong with people? What is wrong with the Daily Barometer that we wouldn’t consider this before printing such an article? Just because it appears in Facebook, MySpace, or OregonLive, that doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea.

According to Dictionary Definition: “1. blackface – the makeup used by a performer in order to imitate a Negro.” The term blackface is usually tied to racism and prejudice. Not to mention outright bigotry. Ok, I’ll mention it. I personally found the blackface suggestion offensive, as I don’t appreciate seeing non-Native people try to dress like Natives for Halloween or in blackface in imitation of Black people.

I was at a pow wow in Florida once where I saw a White woman wearing a short buckskin dress that was cut thigh-high and she was wearing a long black wig with various other equally inappropriate accoutrements. My friends and I were so disgusted that we left the arena and the pow wow. I had immediately lost all desire to dance and had to suppress a desire to throttle. Ok, not really, but I did want to give her a piece of my mind as she had obviously lost some of hers. You don’t go to a pow wow scantily clad and you don’t go in blackface makeup anywhere.

After doing some research on blackface, and the history of it, I do realize that the minstrel shows of decades ago did provide some avenue for blacks to perform and some of them could not do so unless they too were in blackface. But, as time, and our world, has evolved, the realization that these minstrel shows promoted racist views of a large segment of our population also evolved. Just ask Ted Danson if it is acceptable to go in blackface, he can give you a very informative story about his adventures with that effort at the Friar’s Club way back in 1993 when he was dating Whoopi Goldberg.

While it’s none of my business what anyone wore to the game on Saturday, it is my hope that the “blackface” suggestion dies an untimely death. That this suggestion of a “blackout” be buried on the internet with a small reminder that anything you put on the internet can be found and will be there for future employers to find when they “Google” your name. In future, wear your own face wherever you go. It’s a good one, the Creator gave it you.

Walk a Mile in My Moccasins

By

Renée Roman Nose